Our graduates: Molly McQuillan ’17

Molly McQuillan graduated from Bard in 2017. Last year, we had a post here on this site, about a publication on multisensory integration that she contributed to, while at Bard. Now we reached out to Molly with some questions, to see where the destiny brought her.


Hi Molly! Where do you work now? What is your position called?

I work at MBL, or the Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I’m a research assistant in Dr. Jennifer Morgan’s lab. Dr. Morgan is a neurobiologist; she works in spinal cord injury and regeneration, and also studies how synaptic function is affected by neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Can you say a few words about your research?

Our lab has two major projects going on right now, one looking at how synaptic transmission is restored after spinal cord injury, and the other, which is the project I’m working on, is looking at mechanisms of synaptic defects using a Parkinson’s Disease model. Our main animal model is the sea lamprey, which is not very nice-looking, but it has amazing regenerative capacity as well as giant axons which allow for easier imaging and sectioning.

What does your typical day look like? What do you do at work?

It varies, depending on my experiment schedule. There are basic lab maintenance tasks that need to get done every week, such as making stock solutions for experiments and purchasing lab supplies. In terms of my own experiments, I’m mainly doing bench work which can include doing dissections, staining tissue with antibodies, or running gels for biochemistry experiments, or I’m at my computer doing image analysis. Surprisingly, analyzing data can take much longer than the actual experiment! Most of my bench work takes about 1-2 weeks, with each day planned out by the protocol, sometimes even down to the minute, while the analysis and computer work can take about a month or two, but I’m able to plan it out for myself.

When you started, was it a big difference, compared to your work at Bard?

Yes and no. The general lab settings and expectations were fairly similar, but I think the biggest difference was having more time to devote to experiments and science in general. Back at Bard, the time I had to give to experiments was almost always scheduled around other course work and events, or I would even run to the lab during a lecture break. It’s been a nice change to be able to devote full days to science.

Was it hard to find this position? How did you go about it?

Funny enough, during my last semester, in Animal Physiology class, I found myself picking papers for class presentations that used marine animal models. I became extremely fascinated with marine biology because of this, and joked with some friends that in my next life, I might even become a marine biologist. They actually encouraged me to find out if I could somehow combine marine biology with my current interest in neuroscience. I looked into it, and I discovered MBL. I wasn’t even sure what MBL was at first, since I saw on their website that they were offering a lot of courses, but I dug deeper, saw that they are actually a pretty well-known research facility, and eventually found an opening for the position in Jen’s lab.

What do you like the most about your work at MBL?

Since I’ve started here, I’ve had the chance to learn so many new techniques and I’ve really enjoyed being able to figure out which methods I prefer and what I’m good at. I’ve also had the chance to contribute to a paper for the lab that’s now starting to transition into a new study for possible future publication. I’ll be presenting the preliminary results at the Annual Society for Neuroscience conference this year, which I’m really excited about! Aside from lab science though, the MBL is quite unique by itself. Woods Hole is a small community on Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod, so it is something of a summer resort area. But MBL offers many courses in multiple fields of biology throughout the year, so there’s always a stream of visiting scientists and students from all over the country and the world here. It’s been a great opportunity to meet many different people who share similar scientific interests.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs in Biomedical Science or Neuroscience this fall for next year. I’m still in the thick of applications, so my longer term plans aren’t as concrete at the moment.   


Integrating livestock and wildlife

New paper from Felicia Keesing’s lab was published in Nature Sustainability. Globally, most wildlife live outside of protected areas, creating potential conflicts. Keesing et al. assess tradeoffs between management for wildlife and for livestock in an East African savanna (pictured), finding potential benefits from integrating the two.

Full citation and link: Keesing, F., Ostfeld, R. S., Okanga, S., Huckett, S., Bayles, B. R., Chaplin-Kramer, R., … & Warui, C. M. (2018). Consequences of integrating livestock and wildlife in an African savannaNature Sustainability1(10), 566.

Biology Seminar Fall 2018

Biology Seminars happen in the RKC auditorium every Thursday at noon. The schedule for Fall 2018:

Sep 13: Scott Chimeleski, Harvard University. Imaging Microbial Activity through a Macro Lens
Sep 20: Alexandra Purdy, Amherst College. Bacterial regulatory networks controlling both host and microbe metabolism: a tale in two Vibrios
Sep 27: Lucija Peterlin Masic, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. New DNA Gyrase B inhibitors effective again ESCAPE pathogens
Oct 4: Jason Breves, Skidmore College. Salt and water balance in fishes: endocrine mechanisms of environmental adaptation
Oct 11: no seminar, fall break
Oct 18: Liza Comita, Yale School of Forestry. Who are the species in your neighborhood? Density-dependent interactions in a tropical tree community
Oct 25: Steve Franks, Fordham. Evolutionary Responses to Climate Change Revealed by the Resurrection Approach
Nov 1: Gabriel Perron, Bard College (title tba)
Nov 8: Vanisha Lakhina, Princeton University. Identifying genes that enhance neuronal health with age
Nov 15: Grace Barber, Pine Barrens. Ants, art, science education, and environmental conservation: A Bardian’s story
Nov 22: no seminar, Thanksgiving
Nov 29: Felicia Keesing, Bard College. How to have a meaningful summer
Dec 6: no seminar, Advising week in Biology program
Dec 13: Senior projects (names and titles will be known later)

Welcome. professor Heather Bennett!

We are very happy to announce that Dr. Heather Bennett has joined our program as Assistant Professor of Biology. Bennett received her BS from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and PhD in molecular biology, cellular biology, and biochemistry from Brown University. She was a Penn-PORT Fellow in neurology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her thesis, “Loss of Notch or JNK Signaling Results in FOXO Dependent Compensatory Sleep in C. elegans” received a Ford Foundation Graduate Dissertation Fellowship honorable mention. She has taught courses in molecular and behavior genetics of neurological disease and the genetics and biochemistry of development. Her work has been published in PLOS One and Journal of Immunology; and she has given talks at various universities on such subjects as “Using C. Elegans to investigate how animals survive in low oxygen conditions”; “How do worms sleep?”; and “C. Elegans to study sleep, stress, and neuronal circuitry in response to anoxic insult.” Dr. Bennett is a member of the Sleep Research Society, Genetics Society of America, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dueker lab: Biology of fog in Maine, and in Namib Desert

The lab of professor Eli Dueker published a new study on the microbial composition of fog in Maine and in the Namib Desert. Dr. Dueker and collaborators found that fog particles lift microorganisms off the surface of water, and deposit them inland, increasing the microbial diversity.

The study has made quite a splash in the press; look at these substantive and interesting reviews, one in The Atlantic, and this one on the Atlas Obscura website.

Professor Dueker was also invited for a radio interview at WAMC: you can listen to it here.

Full citation: Dueker, M. E. and S. Evans, R. Logan, and K. C. Weathers (2018). The biology of fog: results from coastal Maine and Namib Desert reveal common drivers of fog microbial composition. Science of the Total Environment 647: 1547-1556.

New paper from Perron lab: effects of arsenic on fish microbiome

We are our own zoos, harboring about 39 trillion bacteria symbionts, about as many as our cells. These bacteria, collectively called our microbiome, are indispensable for our health; they fight our infections, process our food, guide our behavior, and protect us from diseases. So, when our bacteria are disrupted so is our health.

The recent research article, written by Bard graduate Dylan Dahan ’15 and professor Gabriel Perron, in collaboration with professors Brooke Jude and Felicia Keesing, used zebrafish as a model to investigate how arsenic poisoning affects fish microbiomes. The researchers found that microbiomes were readily affected, with striking consequences such as loss of bacterial community members and potential increases in antibiotic resistance.

Arsenic poising in contaminated drinking water affects over 60 million people in Bangladesh and West Bengal. This research will inform how contaminated water may be altering peoples microbiomes and thus supports the case for cleaning contaminated water.

Full citation: Dahan, D., Jude, B. A., Lamendella, R., Keesing, F., & Perron, G. G. (2018). Exposure to arsenic alters the microbiome of larval zebrafishFrontiers in microbiology9.

On the photo: Dylan Dahan (class of 2015) presenting his data.

Student research: Sarah Weiner

In recent years, many have speculated that climate change is the driving force behind the spike in cases of Lyme disease in the northeastern United States.  It would be really useful for the public if we could use climate data to predict places and times at risk for Lyme disease.  In her senior project, Sarah Weiner used public records from the United States Drought Monitor to create a climate index.  Then, with guidance from professor Felicia Keesing, Sarah built statistical models to see whether this climate index could be used to predict year-to-year variation in Lyme disease incidence at the county level.  Sarah found that climate is not a practical way to predict Lyme disease outbreaks, and that other factors, such as location, are much better predictors.

Microscopy tutorial

This spring semester, two Bard biology students (Maia Weisenhaus and Sadie Marvel) were enrolled in a microscopy tutorial with professor Brooke Jude. Every week they would come up with new ideas for projects, and then figured out how to do them as they went along. In the words of one of the students: “It’s fun to learn these microscopy techniques without the formal structure of being in a class. It’s very exploratory!”

You can see more photos from the tutorial on the tutorial tumblr.

Hudson Valley Life Science conference

Five biology students brought their senior project posters to the Hudson Valley Life Science Group (HVLSG) Spring Research Symposium, which was held at Vassar college this year. The conference was a blast, with about 30 students participating, and a great keynote lecture about frogs and owls (by Vassar professor Megan Gall).

Field Methods in Ecology course in Costa Rica

Bard students enrolled in the Field Methods in Ecology course, taught by professor Cathy Collins, spent spring break in Costa Rica at the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology. Students designed and executed studies to characterize rainforest microclimates, estimate diversity and abundance of butterflies, and quantify the biomass removed from the forest canopy by leaf cutter ants–all while being surrounded by the sloths, monkeys, anteaters, tarantulas, and toucans!

You can read more about their experience on the course blog, and see more photos at the blog photo album!